Approaching a Milestone: A thesis on development of musical taste.

One of my compatriots on Last.fm was pointing out that I was approaching 200,00 plays since I joined up way back in late July, 2006.  Further, I was asked how Last.fm had changed or helped my musical taste evolve over time.  This question intrigued me as I’d not really given a lot of thought to it.  Plus, homing in on 2K plays is something of a milestone (although I want to have a party when I pass a Quarter Million.  I probably won’t, but I’d like to.) and as good a time as any to reflect on the past close to seven years of listening to music.

I honestly don’t know if Last.fm (my profile is here, if you care to look) usage has helped or shaped my tastes or not.  For years, I’ve had a very eclectic relationship with music.  My play list shows this. You can go back and look at every single song or podcast I’ve listened to in the past six and half years (why you’d want to is beyond me, but hey…) and see that I go through streaks of music.  Genre’s or artists or styles or whatever.  This has always been the case, and now I have documented proof of it.

I am also an album listener, by and large.  Which shows my age or my listening habits.  Pandora is great, so is Spotify, but I’d rather listen to 8-10 songs by the same artist.  I’ve always sort of been that way.  Kids today aren’t and that’s fine with me.  My folks weren’t great album listeners.  They had some, but generally speaking they liked listening to the radio (as do I, Sports Radio mostly) as there was the variety and it was just easier than changing records.

The lack of a real ability to make mix tapes through much of the 80’s lead me to listening to cassettes, often on repeat, in the car.  By my 20’s, a stack of 45’s on the turntable wasn’t very appealing to me.  It was much more fun when I was a teenager and sitting in my room listening to some silly record (“Silly Love Songs” anyone?) over and over again, or god forbid, “Please, Don’t Go” because I was feeling all angsty and stuff before anyone knew what angsty was.  I’m pleased to tell you that no Doc Martins were ever hurt during these episodes.  We didn’t know about them either.

So, my listening habits were fairly well established by my 40’s.  That’s not to say I didn’t make playlists or a few mix CD’s, just not many.  I certainly never made any to give to anyone.  For my own enjoyment and gathering stray songs from albums that weren’t worth listening to the whole thing but had a killer song or two or 45’s I’d picked up from here and there.    I seldom found anyone who liked more than about half of my music, mostly those who liked less and had never heard of some of it.  OF course with a record collection brimming with country, rock, classical, a few film scores and weird stuff, this isn’t surprising.

What Last.fm did do for my listening habits was change HOW I listened to music. For the most part, I quit listening to CD’s on the stereo.  They wouldn’t go towards my play count.  They didn’t ‘count’.  I couldn’t show I’d listened to them.  It also meant I had to, simply had to get an iPod.  At the time, it was the only mp3 player that you could ‘scrobble‘ your plays from, so the few songs I’d listened to on the way home would ‘count’ towards my total.  Everything became geared towards my “total plays”.  Which means, my scrobbles were now a commodity to be detailed, compiled and gaped at.

This point was driven home to me when my iPod stopped scrobbling songs I’d played in the car or through my headphones.  I sort of went a little nuts for a while trying to figure out what was wrong with iTunes, the Last.fm client or my iPod.  I never did get it figured out and at this point, I guess it doesn’t matter quite as much.  I realized I’d become addicted to counting my music as much as listening to it.  When the desire to count overcame the desire to listen, it occurred to me I wasn’t enjoying music for its own sake, but for my library totals on Last.fm.

As a result, I’ve taken to using the couple of CD players we have around here, and listening to music when I read on the stereo (Blu-Ray players make this sort of fun what with Gracenote titles and what have you on the TV screen.   Or in the bedroom on the Bose or in the car, leaving the iPod alone or even at home.

I find new stuff to listen to mostly by accident.  I’m looking for one thing, find another, or find what I’m looking for and other stuff besides.  I’ve found all manner of music over the past 10-12 years I’ve been looking for it on the Internet.  In fact, I’ve found Allmusic.com and Amazon to be the biggest help in that regard.  Chasing tags or links has been wonderful.  It’s how I discovered Camel, Gentle Giant, Triumvirat, The Like, Nicole Atkins, The Mynabirds, The Pipettes, plus I learned to rethink some groups or artists I’d formed opinions of over the years and other “stuff” I’m sure you haven’t heard of.

The best thing that I found on Last.fm is community.  I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some terrific people there, and a few friendships that have moved beyond the site to others and we still stay in touch (You know who you are and thank you!).  That’s a marvelous thing, that a site devoted to music would allow that to happen.  I guess it was my first “social network” and while I don’t socialize on it nearly as much as I used to, I still check my counts every so often and leave the odd shout in shoutboxes.  Last.fm is People and it’s a far site better than the People being Soylent Green.  Sounds better when played loud,too!

P.S. Whilst writing this, I was listening to Alabama and The Jooles (discovered via Soundcloud). No cats were harmed in the writing of this post, although our Fat Kitty is bellering up a storm because I won’t stop everything and PET HER NOW!

 

12 thoughts on “Approaching a Milestone: A thesis on development of musical taste.

  1. This reinforces my wish that an “800lb gorilla” had emerged among music services. As more things have a social aspect, keeping track of friends can be tiresome. Since I’ve been turned on to several excellent bands by you, it makes me yearn for a universal API where I’d occasionally get a pop-up on my phone…oh well, the world keeps turning, and rocking.

    • Last.fm does have some of those capabilities, George. I’ve just chosen not to avail myself to them. Music is so subjective that what works for some people doesn’t always work for others.

      And Social Networks are little more than expansions of our neighborhoods and interests.

      • Fair enough. I guess my real complaint is that I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by the riches with the number of very good online services and communities.

  2. I’ve never gotten around to using Spotify or Last.fm, though there was a stretch in 2003-2004 when I listened exclusively to Yahoo’s Launchcast during my writing sessions. I found quite a lot of bands with that. Not that I don’t like those sites, I just forget they’re there. If anything, I’ve been making good with internet radio, specifically the terrestrial ones that also stream online. Guess I’m just oldschool and still enjoy the occasional DJ riffing in between songs. ;-)

  3. I’ve been chasing music through the ages on Spotify in recent weeks, and loving the journey. All my old favorites are there, and then there are the…”pssst! hey! you might like this!”….rabbit holes to fall in. Music is transportive, in every imaginable way!

    (I’m OpenBookJen, btw. I didn’t even know I had a Disqus account!)

  4. My cats all like Otis Redding! I’ve been thinking of the changes in my musical preferences now over these last fm years. From what I recall, at first I was mostly singer/songwriter, then piano chick, then indie, then punk, then soul, and now classical. I think that’s it for the major trends. I’ve always been partial to full albums.

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